2024 Legislative Agenda

A framework to increasing support for sustainable transit operations funding that can foster regional collaboration, improve access to jobs, lower emissions, and grow ridership.

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Transit plays an essential role in the lives of millions of riders across the Chicago region and has the potential to reach even more people with stable funding. Historic underfunding of the system has been exacerbated in recent years because of pandemic-induced changes in travel patterns that have resulted in drops in ridership and fare revenues.

Chicago’s transit agencies—CTA, Metra, and Pace—have responded with new fare products, schedules, and service models and have seen ridership grow steadily back. The system is providing over 1 million rides each weekday, continuing transit’s role as an essential component of the region’s transportation network, economy, and quality of life.

While significant ridership recovery has occurred, changes in remote and hybrid work are projected to result in lower levels of ridership for the remainder of the decade compared to 2019. Beginning in 2026, the RTA system is facing a projected $730 million annual operating budget gap, which is expected to grow as expenses increase.

Drastic fare increases and service cuts won’t solve a problem of this magnitude – the system requires funding, reform, and policy changes that make transit a more competitive travel option. Additionally, a smaller, less affordable system will hurt businesses, job growth, climate, and equity in the region, making Chicagoland less attractive nationally for residents and employers. Many more residents will be forced to drive, increasing transportation costs, congestion, and regional greenhouse gas emissions. Immediate action and reform are necessary.

Building off the region’s transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, RTA has developed this legislative agenda focused on securing funds to address the immediate budget gap while also reforming transit funding policy to sustain the system into the future. This means more jobs in the region, more people having access to an affordable and sustainable travel option, and a more resilient transportation network with transit as its backbone.

Policy Priorities

In 2024 the RTA will advocate to... 

Fully fund the region’s transit system.

Chicago’s regional transit system is chronically underfunded. As the pandemic exposed, operating funding levels are not sufficient to maintain the current system, limiting our ability to deliver equitable and efficient transit service across the region.

The RTA will lead the conversation with lawmakers to secure additional operations funding for transit and explain the impacts of different investment levels on the 8.5 million residents of the six-county region. 

The RTA advocates for the State of Illinois to:

  • Increase funding for transit operations to fill the projected 20% budget gap with new, sustainable revenue starting in 2026.
    • The structural 20% deficit – currently projected at $730 million - is projected to grow each year as expenses increase.
    • Filling the structural gap would allow the system to avoid severe cuts and dramatic fare increases and potentially return to 2019 service levels, but riders and communities across the region strongly support more significant investments in the regional network.
    • Ultimately, increase annual operating funding by at least $1.5 billion from current levels to realize expanded and improved service consistent with regional priorities.

The state partially funds the capital costs of building and maintaining the system. Recent federal and state capital legislation has made a big impact in addressing state of good repair needs, but we need more sustainable and predictable capital funding to maintain state of good repair and expand and rebuild facilities for the future. The RTA advocates for the State of Illinois to:

  • Increase levels of sustainable capital funding to meet transit’s infrastructure needs of $3.5 billion per year over the next 10 years, with a focus on additional PAYGO funds to address system maintenance and improve speed and reliability.

Develop a funding structure that is less reliant on rider fares and more focused on equity and access.

Raising funding levels alone won’t solve transit’s problem – there must be structural shifts to how transit is funded. The state-mandated recovery ratio of 50 percent—the highest requirement of its kind nationally—limits transit’s ability to provide equitable service and collaborate.

The RTA advocates for the State of Illinois to:

  • Eliminate the state-mandated 50% recovery ratio requirement and its associated financial penalties; transition recovery ratio to one of several performance metrics.
  • Expand an equitable regional fare policy that includes fully funded free-and-reduced fare programs, estimated at $150 million annually, and ADA Paratransit service, estimated at $250 million annually.

Pursue governance reforms that improve rider experience and regional mobility.

Regional travel patterns have shifted dramatically in the last three years and transit is ready to adapt. Legislators should pursue policies that are based on tangible outcomes and rider feedback, build on recent advancements, and support agencies in their work to adapt transit to meet changing needs and continue to grow ridership.

The RTA advocates for the State of Illinois to:

  • Consider reforms to the RTA Act that improve coordination, efficiency, and accountability.
  • Strengthen regional approach to fare policy to make paying for transit more seamless and affordable, such as a one-day fare pass for all three systems.
  • Build on recent data-driven capital program investments to advance equity and mobility justice in transit planning and construction.

Pursue reforms to how the State plans, evaluates, and prioritizes transportation projects to reduce emissions and advance racial equity.

Transit is one of the most sustainable modes of travel, and the system is one of the strongest tools our region has in the fight against climate change. Transit accounts for just 2 percent of the region’s transportation emissions, while cars and trucks account for 59 percent. Statewide, Illinois spends more than $4.6 billion annually on highway and road investments compared to $1.3 billion on transit. This disparity continues to increase emissions and further entrenches a car-centric mobility network. Lawmakers should enact policies that continue to drive ridership growth and reduce single-occupancy vehicles on the road, which will reduce regional emissions and congestion.

The RTA advocates for the State of Illinois to:

  • Set statewide and regional greenhouse gas emissions targets for the transportation sector and reform project evaluation processes to prioritize projects that reduce emissions, particularly in environmental justice communities.
  • Evaluate and reform how the state spends federal transportation resources to support public transit systems, including flexing highway funds to transit.
  • Evaluate and reform road system user fees including tolling, parking, and vehicle registration to support transit and reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips.
  • Provide additional capital funding and explore innovative purchase-agreements to accelerate the transition to a zero-emission bus network. CTA and Pace are both committed to fully electrifying their bus fleets by 2040.

Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition

None of the challenges facing our regional transit system can be solved by one agency alone. RTA launched the Transit is the Answer Coalition to continue to expand our partnerships with everyone who values public transit. More than 100 riders, stakeholders, advocates, and agency leaders come together in quarterly virtual meetings to pursue strategies for strengthening the transit system and make it more useful for all residents. If you or your organization would like to sign on to be part of the coalition to support and advocate for transit's future in northeast Illinois, please pledge your support below.